Fall 2010-#6. Getting Up to Speed: Tech Savvy Tips for ADR Professionals A Mile Wide, Inch Deep Review of Online Resources for Your Business.

Authorby Juliana Hoyt, Esq.

Vermont Bar Journal


Fall 2010-#6.

Getting Up to Speed: Tech Savvy Tips for ADR Professionals A Mile Wide, Inch Deep Review of Online Resources for Your Business

THE VERMONT BAR JOURNALVolume 36, No. 3Fall 2010Getting Up to Speed: Tech Savvy Tips for ADR Professionals A Mile Wide, Inch Deep Review of Online Resources for Your Businessby Juliana Hoyt, Esq.The Internet has led to an explosion of resources creating a sea change in how we as a society communicate, share ideas, and leverage resources. Technological advances move so quickly it is often difficult to stay current, let alone ahead of the curve. A report out of the Berkman Center for Internet at Harvard Law School noted that the Internet is changing the practice of law and "lawyers who find ways to exploit technology ... will see tremendous gains."(fn1) This statement is equally true for ADR practitioners who, arguably, have more potential for portability in their practices.

Changes in mobile computing, development of affordable software applications that dramatically improve efficiency, communications tools that create ever-improving collaborative environments, and a client base that relies more heavily on technology will fundamentally alter how and where ADR professionals work. New technology will provide unparalleled opportunities for instantaneous contact, information gathering and dissemination. Practitioners will benefit from being technologically savvy so that they can attract and retain clients. As more ADR professionals develop a strong presence on the web and use web-based tools in their work, understanding some of the resources and potential dangers of running a business online becomes critical.

This article seeks to provide an introduction to basic concepts related to the increasing move of data to the Internet-so-called "cloud" or Web 2.0 computing-highlights useful tech tools that increase productivity and optimize collaborative work spaces,(fn2) and points to interesting websites that help practitioners access more information. It also provides a glimpse into basic data protection issues. While this article looks at these tools through the eyes of the ADR practitioner, the technology should have cross-appeal for any entrepreneur.

Web 2.0 and Cloud Computing

Concepts such as Web 2.0 or cloud computing are not just buzz words. They have a very real impact on how people and businesses relate to one another. Web 2.0 refers to a wealth of applications that increase information exchanges, inter-operability, and collaboration. Think: Linked In, Twitter, Facebook, and Wikipedia. Web 2.0 technology includes the ability to search within sites using key words to find relevant information, collaborating on projects such as wikis, and using tags to categorize information for ease of retrieval. Blogs and RSS feeds are prime examples of Web 2.0 tools and many websites use Web 2.0 features to cross-link to other sites.

Cloud computing is a relatively new concept but, nonetheless, much of what is done today on the web takes advantage of the new cloud computing formats. In times past, a business or an organization used internal networks to connect all of their desktop computers through land lines to a central server that held the major applications of the business. When a software upgrade came out, the company had to purchase the upgrade and a techie had to use a CD-ROM that contained the upgrade and install an update on each and every device at the same time to ensure the network remained in sync. Occasionally, the upgrade for one program fried another program on the same machine, causing endless headaches. The business's on-site server also acted as the centralized point for storage of all data and from it back-up tapes were made to protect the information on the server.

These days, programs are rarely purchased outright. Most software is delivered online, upgrades occur at the click of a mouse and usually without impacting other programs on that computer. Companies license the applications on demand. This format is best known as SaaS, or software as a service. Wireless computing, laptops, and hand-held devices like smart phones have made it more difficult for businesses to control all the data produced by their employees and to ensure that the data runs through their on-site servers. Attorneys who have had exposure to e-discovery issues can attest to the complexity of trying to figure out where data containing discoverable information is located, who actually owns or controls it, and how to best access it.

Enclosed office network systems are being replaced by cloud computing. Servers and workstations no longer need be on-site. Desktops, laptops and hand-held devices can effortlessly connect to virtual servers, making it far easier to access information and collaborate from multiple locations. Cloud servers are less expensive and far more flexible as companies can increase or decrease capacity as needed, allowing for unprecedented fine-tuning of needs. The drawback is that businesses no longer have controlled internal systems and must rely on third party service providers as never before: to house and maintain data, to provide access, to upgrade software, to back up information, and to perform critical network functions that used to reside largely in-house.(fn3)

The benefit of cloud computing for the small to medium-sized business is that businesses can access web-based resources at a lower cost. Developers of applications are able to bring the technology to market quicker with open distribution channels, allowing those who want to use their products a way to do so in an economically feasible way. Soon, so much of what we do in our regular lives will be conducted online that the ability to form and maintain a dynamic presence on the web, as opposed to simply having a static web site, will become a business necessity. At the rate things are going, most businesses will be running on the web and in the cloud in the very near future.

Tools for Practitioners to Streamline Business Operations

An example of the migration from internal to external business function can be seen in the growth of virtual telephone systems. If you have ever worked in an office with more than two employees, you have had exposure to a private branch exchange (also called a PBX) telephone system, where all of the phone extensions of a business are connected to a centralized switch that interlinks all the offices, fax machines, and modems. Today, virtual telephone systems are replacing PBX systems and offering increased portability.

There are many companies offering these systems. Our company uses Ring Central (www.ringcentral.com). Companies can transfer existing phone numbers to the system, get a new number (local or toll-free), and link it to an online fax number as well. There is no need to give out separate cell, office, or home numbers as all calls can be routed through the virtual platform. A user-friendly interface allows your company to set answering rules for each extension so that calls can be forwarded to each employee wherever he or she is (home, cell, laptop, etc.) or even route calls to a specially designed desk phone that runs through your Internet. Voice mails and faxes are routed to your email address so you can review messages at any time. The service also maintains a detailed call log that can be downloaded and exported into programs such as Excel. The system integrates with Microsoft Outlook so all your contacts can be imported, and there are smart phone applications that allow you to access the system from your iPhone.

For individuals, Google Voice offers a free service for anyone with a Google account. A single Google forwarding number will ring all of a user's phones when called. Free calling and SMS is offered in the United States and low-cost international calls can be added as well. The system provides for e-mail notification and retrieval of voice-mails and can also transcribe the voicemail to a text...

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